Ride along as we visit world-class restaurants, hotels and wineries that you need to add to your California bucket list.
In the first installment of our epic road trip through California wine country in the brand new, six-figure, full size Range Rover, we recounted our visit to The Lodge at Bodega Bay on the Sonoma Coast, and moving from there to the Kenwood Inn & Spa, which recently got a multimillion-dollar makeover.
The Range Rover, as we’ve noted, not only performed all of its tasks admirably, but with plenty of power and style to boot. Turns out the ride that fit for royalty also makes a damn fine daily driver, especially if high end-hotels, world class restaurants, and wineries are on the itinerary.
While the luxe interior of the new Range Rover is minimalist verging on spartan, the way you spec your ride seriously affects the experience. Opting for all black is as restrained as it gets, while we prefer something more in the tan/brown range to emphasize the quality of the leather upholstery. Either way, the onboard tech, anchored by a massive central touchscreen, is formidable and impressive.
While stationed in Kenwood we took the opportunity to visit Glen Ellen Star, chef Ari Weiswasser’s impeccable restaurant in the town of the same name. Glen Ellen Star “specializes in a wood-fire cooking technique that brings out the best flavors of their California inspired dishes,” and it’s one of the most alluring dining experiences anywhere in Sonoma.
Weiswasser has serious kitchen cred, having spent two years at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, among other top gigs, before opening Glen Ellen Star across the street from his wife’s family’s Benziger Family Winery, where he soon planted gardens in the vineyards and crafted a menu designed for wine lovers to delight in.
Most of kitchen’s produce comes from The Glentucky Family Farm on Sonoma Mountain, also part of the Benziger family. It doesn’t get more local than this. Menu standouts include white sauce pizza with cacio e’ peppe, pecorino, peppercorn, and Perigord black truffle; Snake River Farms American Wagyu Zabuton steak with sunchoke “fra diavolo”, whipped broccoli, and chicory; and house-made gnocchetti di Sardi with braised rabbit, red wine sugo, Castelvetrano olives, spinach, and saffron cream.
While we did not go heavy on actual wineries on this trip, one that we made a point to seek out was Paul Hobbs. Hobbs, called the “Steve Jobs of Wine” by Forbes, is a masterful winemaker widely held in awe. He established his winery in Sebastopol in 1991, and has been racking up awards across the industry and the media ever since.
“The true character of a site is only revealed through the work and determination of tending each vineyard with meticulous care, and vinifying with minimalist winemaking techniques that fully express the terroir,” as Hobbs explains it. His winery is the “pinnacle reflection of our desire to showcase the individuality of new and historical [vineyard] sites by crafting wines with purity, energy, and balance.”
At the winery and the tasting room, the architecture is as impeccable as the wine. Hobbs harvest grapes by hand from sustainably farmed vineyards across Sonoma County and Napa Valley to produce world-class Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. His Cabs are the most famous, with several having garnered 100-point accolades.
While winemaking is obviously the chief endeavor, Hobbs also understands the beauty of a perfect pairing. The winery offers top flight tasting menus with wine pairings that feature Michelin-quality cuisine alongside some of his most coveted vintages in the the Lindsay House on the winery grounds, a paragon of fine hospitality. This is a must-visit.
While the Range Rover obviously sat that one out, we were more than thrilled to get back behind the wheel the next day for the final drive back to San Francisco. It was bittersweet to say the least to be cosseted in graceful, peaceful luxury one last time as we navigated across the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, and checked into the newly revamped Beacon Grand hotel in the famed Union Square neighborhood.
A true San Francisco icon, the Beacon Grand first opened as the Sir Francis Drake in 1928, instantly taking its place amongst the city’s finest hotels. In 2022 it reopened as the Beacon Grand, ushering in a new era. “San Francisco was birthed by dreamers. Hustlers and strivers; writers and musicians; rebels and revolutionaries,” the hotel notes. “All have made this place their own. Steeped in that heritage, the Beacon Grand invites you to connect with tradition, dream the future, and claim this city as your own.”
The building’s original architectural details, which blend Art Deco with classical elements, have been even further enhanced by careful restoration. “Fully renovated but with a nod to the past, vibrant guestrooms, new public spaces, and thoughtful amenities delight the most discerning traveler,” as the posh property notes.
The Post Room restaurant and lounge is the heart of the hotel, “communal living room during the day and lively gathering spot at night,” with a menu wherein “the flavors of the western Mediterranean are brought to life with local farm-fresh produce.” It’s ideal for sit-down meals, a light aperitivo, or an evening cocktail as you choose.
And a key attraction of the Beacon Grand is the property’s on-site Social Hosts, designated “facilitators of cultural curiosity, and accomplices in your quest to get under the city’s skin. ” They can advise you on everything from “the latest exhibition or cinema screening to that pop-up club where your favorite DJ is doing a secret set,” and get you past the doorman to boot.
For our final meal in California, we made a beeline for China Live. Named one of the “world’s greatest places” by Time magazine, this is a temple to Chinese cooking and culinary traditions, artfully blended with contemporary flair, that is one of the most amazing dining experiences in the country. Created by world-renowned chef George Chen, China Live has won numerous awards including Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”.
More than just a restaurant, Chen designed it to be a “captivating destination for gourmet enthusiasts, trendsetters, and world travelers that explore by palate.” With incredible food prepared in a series of open kitchens, there’s a nearly obscenely delicious offering to suit every taste. We opted for the famed Peking duck, as well an whole Dungeness crab prepared in the Szechuan style.
After dinner we repaired to an upper floor where the speakeasy style Cold Drinks is located. Last year we named it as one of the world’s most beautiful bars, and no cocktail enthusiast visiting San Francisco should neglect to drop in for an impeccably crafted drink. Design enthusiasts will likewise be thrilled with the homage to Frank Lloyd Wright reflected in the stunning interior. We’ll see you next time, Golden City….